Whimsical as my young and easily excitable mind is, I tend to come up with a dream every few weeks, dream meaning an ardent desire, not an insane nocturnal hallucination. My latest dream (which I suspect will last about two more weeks) is to become a pizza baker. Or a pizzaiolo, as they call them here in Italy, where I am spending a little holiday just now.
I can picture myself already, hair tied up in a bun that’s looking more and more floury and bewildered as the number of pizzas progresses, whilst I slave away in front of a burning hot oven, wearing one of those old white aprons that the pizzaioli here wear. My face sweaty and red from the heat of the fire, my hands covered in tomato sauce, I’d be invisible to the people who eat the pizzas I make for them, and yet a hero, a near mythical character, of whom everyone confirms the existence, but no-one knows the face.
Unfortunately I have not yet found a pizzeria willing to take on a greenhorn like me to educate me in the mysteries of pizza-making, so making a pizza just for myself in my own kitchen is as close as I have gotten to realising my dream. I may have to admit that the lack of a real magical wood-and-fire oven is quite serious, since a normal oven just doesn’t get hot enough. Fortunately, however, my Italian companion knows how to make a really damn good dough and we also bought some real Neapolitan buffalo mozzarella, so our home-made pizza wasn’t too far off. Not as good as that of a real pizzaiolo, but pretty damn close.
To make two pizzas, which, in my world, is enough for two, maybe three people, you will need:
- half a kilo of plain flour
- 10 gr of brewer’s yeast (same yeast as is used for beer, hence the name)
- a cup of warm water with a couple of sugar cubes dissolved in it
- enough olive oil
- enough salt
- passata di pomodoro
- toppings of your own choosing, although I strongly suggest buffalo mozzarella and nothing else
Stick the flour in a bowl with the yeast, mix well. Then add a generous amount of salt and some of the warm water. Use your hands to mix it all together. Gradually add water and a little bit of olive oil, using your hands to scoop up all of the flour and kneading the whole mixture into a smooth ball. If it’s still quite sticky, use more force: beating the mixture violently against the bowl really does help and it’ll soothe your jangled nerves, too.
Beat your dough ball onto a working surface. Roll it out into a long snake-shape, then roll it up, and beat it back into a ball. Repeat. Once your dough is nice and smooth, put a little bit of flour in the bowl and put the dough ball on top. Cut a cross on the top to help it rise. Coven the bowl with a tea towel and leave it for at least 5 hours.
Once your dough has risen, divide it in two for your two pizzas. Rework each half into a ball and make that ball into a circle, I’d say using your hands rather than a rolling pin. Press the ball flat with the palms of your hands, then push it out from the centre with your fingers.
Place the now round dough in a greased pizza tin. Cover with the passata and some olive oil which you then mix with the back of a spoon (the oil is to prevent the sauce from drying out while the pizza bakes, so don’t forget it!). Sprinkle over some salt. Then top with whatever you have decided to top your pizza with. Add a last sprinkle of olive oil and oregano.
I used a gas oven and I preheated it to maximum (which, according to the oven itself, is 260 °C) and then lowered it to 225 when I put the pizza in. I had to leave it in for 20 minutes until the dough was cooked properly. This really depends on your oven but I’d say these are good guidelines.